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Posts Tagged ‘Picnic Island’

This time it was no picnic!

Monday, August 4th, 2014

One of my all-time favorite races is the Picnic Island Adventure Run in Tampa, Florida. It is actually a series of three races that take place once a month on Friday nights in May, June, and July. Hot and humid do not begin to describe the weather at 6:45 p.m. on the small island in Tampa Bay under a cloudless summer sky. So once you’ve accepted the weather factor, you’re ready for the real challenge.

This adventure run is unique and definitely not one of those mud runs or extreme obstacle races where you sign away your life in a waiver. I don’t do dangerous races like that. Picnic Island is challenging, don’t get me wrong, but it is definitely more welcoming to all ages and abilities who are seeking adventure. The obstacles are minor; you crawl under a cargo net on your knees over sand, run through six big, inflated tubes, and then hurdle, jump, walk, or crawl over one hurdle. The rest of the run is on the beach, grassy areas with hills, a couple of very small sections over pavement, and quite a bit through mangroves. Oh the mangroves! You never know what to expect until you get there. This July 18th, high tide was coming in so the water through the mangroves was pretty deep, very warm, and muddy. Yes, a little bit of “ick” factor, especially if you go splashing through like I did and it hits you in the face.

I always sign up for the three race series but this year I was unable to race the May and June races due to my post Boston Marathon rest period and rehabbing an injury. I knew I was not in top shape, but was very excited to race Picnic Island as well as I could. From the gun, I was out of breath and knew I would be. I was just trying to hold on to my spot in the top five overall women as we approached the last section of “non-trails” before the toughest part of the course. I say “non-trails” because they are not trails; they are overgrown areas of vegetation that someone walked through when setting up the course and stomped down a single track area for us to squeeze through. I was almost through this section, which is my least favorite of the course, and I tripped. I had an out of body experience. I saw myself floating down towards the ground, almost as if in slow motion. As soon as my knees hit the rocks at the bottom of the slight downhill I popped up, probably cursed (can’t remember now), and quickly ran off.

I attacked the five or six steep hills that zigzag up and down from the beach because I was so shocked that I fell and a bit embarrassed. But I wasn’t feeling any pain yet so I finished strong and ended up placing third overall and won Masters. Once I hosed off my legs to assess the damage, then the pain kicked in. So this one was no picnic but even now, two weeks after the event, my knees are still scraped, bruised, and recovering but I cannot wait until next summer when I can run all three Picnic Island Adventure Runs!

Exiting the water and heading to the finish line!



My poor knees!

The Adventure Never Ends

Saturday, June 13th, 2009


I have been running and racing for 24 of my 35 years.  I have a difficult time imagining what life would be like without it.  During those years, I have participated in a wide variety of races, including cross country races (mostly 5K), track meets (800 meters, mile, 3000 meters, 5000 meters), and road races (mile, 5K, 4 mile, 8K, 5 mile, 10K, 13K, 15K, 10 mile, 20K, half marathon, marathon, and marathon relays).  I guess I thought I had “seen it all” until I was introduced to adventure running last year.


After so many years of training and racing, running is still my passion.  Sometimes the “same old” races just don’t light that competitive spark anymore.  Summers in Florida don’t offer much more than the usual hot, humid 5K.  When I first heard about the Picnic Island Adventure Runs last summer I was hesitant because I had concerns about crawling under a cargo net and going through, over, or under other obstacles.  Wouldn’t that slow me down?  What if my lack of coordination caused me to look silly or hurt something?


Luckily I put my fears aside and took the leap to try something new.  It was the best decision I ever made.  There are more adventure runs out there, but my experience is limited to the Picnic Island races.  I ran in two of them last summer and just finished my third Picnic Island Friday night.  These races are usually 3.1 to 3.3 miles in length and have really grown in popularity.  The May 2009 Picnic Island race had about 700 participants.


Each time I finish one, I feel inspired.  I don’t know exactly what it is.  It could be the fact that we don’t really know the exact distance of the race and there are no mile markers; the funny thing is that no one seems to care either.  Maybe it is the uneven terrain, sharp turns, single lane path through the mangroves, or the short, steep zig zag hills at the end.  Or it could be the return to childhood while crawling on hands and knees through sand under a cargo net, taking a sharp right turn, covered in sand, then running through big, inflated tubes, and with wobbly legs attempting to jump a big hurdle.  Each year there are three races over the summer and no two races have been the same.  One thing is for sure, I love the crazy terrain.  I find myself pushing the pace, pushing my limits just based on how I feel.  Time doesn’t mean much on Picnic Island.  My goal is to finish in the top 50 in order to receive an award at the finish line.  During the race I always seem to find a few people who become my short term goals.  I keep pushing the pace throughout the race so that when we get close to the finish line, my lungs are burning and I am gasping for breath.  That is when I feel so incredibly alive.


Friday, June 12, 2009 was the second of the three Picnic Island Adventure Runs.  There were five RunnerGirls pushing the limits Friday night.  Four of us finished in the top 50 and received hats at the finish line (Jessica Pate, Diana Nelson, Nicole Iglesias, and Rae Ann Darling Reed).  Our fifth runner (Clancy Vaughan) just missed it, placing 51st.  It was Clancy’s first experience at Picnic Island and I’m sure she’ll be back to try to get into that top 50.  Clancy will be in 8th grade at King Middle this fall.  She is an outstanding soccer player and has great potential as a runner.  Jessica Pate is a recent graduate of Manatee High where she was a state finalist in cross country and competed at region in track.  She will run for Furman University this fall.  Diana Nelson and Nicole Iglesias will be seniors at Manatee High in the fall.  They have both competed at the regional level in both cross country and track.  Nicole and Diana are outstanding student-athletes who will be team leaders in cross country, track, and basketball.  They are both three sport athletes who thrive on the diversity of their three sports.  This is very important in high school to avoid the burn out that often results in specializing in one sport too early in life.  After all, “variety is the spice of life.”


In comparing races to the “spices of life,” Picnic Island Adventure Runs would be something hot like cayenne pepper.  It’s not something you would do (or use) all the time, but it is exciting and different and can really spark a renewed passion for running, racing, and life.  It makes you feel alive.  As a warning, you may be sore in muscles you have forgotten about from crawling, jumping, and running the wild terrain, but you will smile thinking about how those muscles got that way.  The Picnic Island Adventure Run (or any adventure run in your area) might be exactly what you need to put that spark back in your running.  It is definitely one adventure I am glad I tried.


RunnerGirls at Picnic Island

RunnerGirls at Picnic Island




Run at Your Own Risk

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

The more I think about it today, the more I realize that we probably should not have run the race last night. But, luckily no one was struck by lightning, so it’s all good! =)

The Picnic Island Adventure runs are a series of three races in May, June, and July that take place on an “interesting island” called Picnic Island in Tampa near the Gandy Bridge. Each race is approximately 3.3 miles long and includes running on the soft, choppy beach, uneven grass (watch out for those holes!), through mangroves on a single lane track with trees and shrubs thrashing you the whole way, and let us not forget the real fun stuff…crawling in sand under a cargo net, running through tires, the giant hurdle, and the crazy, steep hills at the end. The races usually end with a short run into waist deep water and back out to finish on the beach. Each race is different depending on how high or low the tide is…example: May’s race was pretty dry except for the plunge into the bay before the finish yet July’s race was super wet with deep water all throughout the mangrove trails.

July’s race was even more interesting due to the thunderstorm. They delayed the start of the race about ten minutes to really let the storm roll in. I guess they were hoping it would head the other way, but no luck. Anyway, the entire race was in a full blown thunderstorm with the rain and lightning getting worse as the race progressed. Oh, and just before firing the starting gun, the starter said “run at your own risk.” Like anyone was going to walk away at that point.

As we were heading towards the cargo net, I saw a huge crack of lightning that looked like it hit near the corner of the island where we would be running in about 2-3 minutes. I have to admit that this scared me a little, but I went under the net, through the tires, and over the hurdle and then was gasping for air a bit as I headed to the single track through the flooded and muddy mangroves.

The first race in May was my first Picnic Island race so I had no idea what to expect of the course. I loved it. This time, I knew what to expect, which wasn’t quite as good especially since our feet were soaked and weighed about ten pounds each after just one mile of the race. I did like knowing where the hills were at the end so I could push the pace there. Since there was so much lightning, we did not have to run out into the bay and back in before the finish. After the hills it was a straight shot to the finish on the beach and of course the beach was all soft, choppy sand and there was nowhere to go to find good footing. I actually felt that lung burn after the hills on my way to the finish like I did coming out of the water in the May race. Ah what a feeling!

There were nine people from our group in the race: Alex, Anthony, Franz, Nicole, Di, Caroline, Jennifer, Lauren, and me. We all finished and had a blast. Luckily no one in the race was hit by lightning. Could you imagine a more horrible thing? Anyway, we survived and I think everyone had the most amazing time.

I like running in adverse conditions, especially the rain, but I could definitely do without the lightning!

Hope to see everyone at Picnic Island next summer!

Photos from the May & July races:


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